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Trigger Warning: No Money Apocalypse in 2014 Elections

It’s that time of year again.  Election Day is more and more like Groundhog Day for campaign finance reformers.  Their legend goes like this:  if sizeable amounts of money are spent on political speech there will be years of corruption and ruin ahead.  Over at the Nation, Zoë Carpenter is complaining that “old white guys” are buying our elections.  Others warn of an impending “stealth oligarchy” forming right under our noses.  Hogwash.

Some interesting spending did occur during the 2014 elections, but none of it “bought” elections.  Most of the spending was simply people expressing their political preferences in a very American sort of way—yard signs, Internet ads, and television messaging. 

Some of this year’s political spending failed miserably.  Take the Chevron Corporation for example.  It spent some $3 million to support four candidates for city council in Richmond, California.  It planned to renovate its refinery and hoped to have city council members who backed its plan.  While outspending other candidates on a 20:1 basis, all four Chevron-backed candidates lost their races.  Chevron spoke, candidates spoke, and the people voted.  Democracy worked.

Meanwhile in Oregon, voters rejected a proposed change to make the state primary elections nonpartisan.  Sponsoring the reform were out of state billionaires:  former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Texas natural resources trader John Arnold.  Supporters of primary reform spent about $5.2 million while unions opposing it spent around $1.5 million.  Nearly 70 percent of voters rejected the proposed reform, even when supporters spent over three times the amount of money to make it a reality. 

Many will still disdain political spending, castigate the wealthy for being civic-minded, and claim the full ruin of our Republic.  Don’t listen to them.  Money speaks, but not very loudly. Voters matter most and no amount of spending on slick political advertisements transforms Americans into an army of corporate lemmings.  We are a fiercely independent people fully capable of making important political decisions. We’d like to remain that way.

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Saturday, 23 September 2017
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